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The Battle of New Orleans was a prolonged battle which took place around New Orleansmarker, Louisianamarker from December 23, 1814 to January 8, 1815, and was the final major battle of the War of 1812. Americanmarker forces, commanded by General Andrew Jackson, defeated an invading British Army intent on seizing New Orleansmarker and the vast territory America had acquired with the Louisiana Purchase. The Treaty of Ghent had been signed on 24 December 1814, but news of the peace would not reach the combatants until February. The battle is often regarded as the greatest American land victory of the war.

Prelude

Eighteenth century map of southeast Louisiana
By December 12, 1814, a large British fleet under the command of Sir Alexander Cochrane with more than 10,000 soldiers and sailors aboard, had anchored in the Gulf of Mexicomarker to the east of Lake Pontchartrainmarker and Lake Borgnemarker. Preventing access to the lakes was an American flotilla, commanded by Thomas ap Catesby Jones, consisting of five gunboats. On December 14, around 1,200 British sailors and Royal Marines in 42 longboats, each boat armed with a small carronade, captured the vastly outnumbered Americans manning five U.S. gunboats in a brief but violent battle in what is known as the Battle of Lake Borgne. Seventeen British sailors were killed and 77 more wounded in the battle while the Americans lost 6 killed, 35 wounded, and 86 captured, two of the wounded included the commanders Lt. Catesby Jones and Captain Lockyer. Now free to navigate Lake Borgne, thousands of British soldiers, under the command of General John Keane, were rowed to Pea Island, about east of New Orleans, where they established a garrison.

Battle on December 23

On the morning of December 23, Keane and a vanguard of 1,800 British soldiers reached the east bank of the Mississippi River, south of New Orleans. Keane could have attacked the city by advancing for a few hours up the river road, which was undefended all the way to New Orleans, but he made the fateful decision to wait for the arrival of reinforcements. During the afternoon of December 23, after he had learned of the position of the British encampment, Andrew Jackson reportedly said, "By the Eternal they shall not sleep on our soil." Early that evening, Jackson led a brief, three-pronged attack from the north on the unsuspecting British troops. Then Jackson pulled his forces back to the Rodriguez Canal, about four miles south of the city. The Americans suffered a reported 24 killed, 115 wounded, and 74 missing or captured, while the British reported their losses as 46 killed, 167 wounded, and 64 missing or captured.

Jackson's surprise attack caused the stunned British commanders to delay their assault on the city, giving the American troops time to begin the transformation of the canal into a heavily fortified earthwork. On Christmas Day, General Edward Pakenham arrived on the battlefield and ordered a reconnaissance-in-force on December 28 against the American earthworks protecting the advance to New Orleans. That evening, General Pakenham met with General Keane and Admiral Cochrane for an update on the situation, angry with the position that the army had been placed in. General Pakenham wanted to use Chef Menteur Road as the invasion route but was over-ruled by Admiral Cochrane who insisted that his boats were providing everything that could be needed. Admiral Cochrane believed that the British Army would destroy a ramshackle American army and allegedly said that if the Army would not do so his sailors would. Whatever Pakenham's thoughts on the matter, the meeting settled the method and place of the attack. On December 28, groups of British troops made probing attacks against the American earthworks.

When the British troops withdrew, the Americans began construction of artillery batteries to protect the earthworks, which were then christened Line Jackson. The Americans installed eight batteries, which included one 32-pound gun, three 24-pounders, one 18-pounder, three 12-pounders, three 6-pounders, and a howitzer. Jackson also sent a detachment of men to the west bank of the Mississippi to man two 24-pounders and two 12-pounders from the grounded warship Louisiana.

The main British army arrived on New Year's Day, and attacked the earthworks using their artillery. An exchange of artillery fire began that lasted for three hours. Several of the American guns were destroyed or knocked out, including the 32-pounder, a 24-pounder, and a 12-pounder, and some damage was done to the earthworks. The British guns ran out of ammunition, which led Pakenham to cancel the attack. Unknown at the moment to Pakenham, the Americans on the left of Line Jackson near the swamp had broken and run from the position. Pakenham decided to wait for his entire force of over 8,000 men to assemble before launching his attack.

Battle of January 8

The battlefield at Chalmette Plantation on January 8, 1815
In the early morning of January 8, British Major-General Edward Pakenham ordered a two-pronged assault against Jackson's position: a small force on the west bank of the Mississippi and the main attack in three columns (along the river led by Keane, along the swamp line led by Gibbs, and in reserve led by Lambert) directly against the earthworks manned by the vast majority of American troops.

Preparations for the attack had foundered early, as a canal being dug by Cochrane's sailors collapsed and the dam made to divert the flow of the river into the canal failed leaving the sailors to drag the boats of Col. Thornton's west bank assault force through deep mud and left the force starting off just before daybreak 12 hours late.

The attack began under darkness and a heavy fog, but as the British neared the main enemy line the fog lifted exposing them to withering artillery fire. Lt-Col. Thomas Mullins, the British commander of the 44th Regiment of Foot, had forgotten the ladders and fascines needed to cross a canal and scale the earthworks, and confusion evolved in the dark and fog as the British tried to close the gap. Most of the senior officers were killed or wounded, including General Gibbs, killed leading the main attack column on the right comprising the 4th, 21st, 44th and 5th West India, and Colonel Rennie leading a detachment of light companies of the 7th, 43rd, and 93rd on the left by the river.

Possibly because of Thornton's delay in crossing the river and the withering artillery fire that might hit them from across the river, the 93rd Highlanders were ordered to leave Keane's assault column advancing along the river and move across the open field to join the main force on the right of the field. Keane fell wounded as he crossed the field with the 93rd. Rennie's men managed to attack and overrun an American advance redoubt next to the river, but without reinforcements they could neither hold the position nor successfully storm the main American line behind. Within minutes, the American 7th Infantry arrived, moved forward, and fired upon the British in the captured redoubt; within half an hour, Rennie and most of his men were dead. In the main attack on the right, the British infantrymen either flung themselves to the ground, huddled in the canal, or were mowed down by a combination of musket fire and grapeshot from the Americans. A handful made it to the top of the parapet on the right but were either killed or captured. The 95th Rifles had advanced in open skirmish order ahead of the main assault force and were concealed in the ditch below the parapet, unable to advance further without support.

The two large main assaults on the American position were repulsed. Pakenham was fatally wounded, while on horseback, by grapeshot fired from the earthworks. With most of the senior officers dead and wounded most of the British soldiers, with no orders to advance further or retreat, stood out in the open and were shot apart with grapeshot from Line Jackson. After about 20 more minutes of bloodletting Major General John Lambert assumed command and eventually ordered a withdrawal.

The only British success was on the west bank of the Mississippi River, where a 700-man detachment from the 85th light infantry, Royal Navy and Royal Marines under the command of Colonel Thornton of the 85th attacked and overwhelmed the American line. Though both Jackson and Commodore Daniel Patterson reported that the retreating forces had spiked their cannon, leaving no guns to turn on the American's main defense line, this is contradicted by Major Mitchell's diary which makes it clear this was not so, as he states he had "Commenced cleaning enemy's guns to form a battery to enfilade their lines on the left bank". General Lambert ordered his Chief of Artillery, Colonel Dickenson, to assess the position. He reported back that no fewer than 2,000 men would be needed to hold the position. General Lambert issued orders to withdraw after the defeat of their main army on the east bank, and retreated, taking a few American prisoners and cannons with them.

At the end of the day, the British had a little over 2,000 casualties: 278 dead (including generals Pakenham and Gibbs); 1186 wounded (including Major General Keane); and 484 captured or missing. (ref: Brooks, Charles B p. 252, Reilly, Robin p. 297) The Americans had 71 casualties: 13 dead; 39 wounded and 19 missing.

Aftermath

On January 9, British naval forces attacked Fort St. Philip which protected New Orleans from an amphibious assault from the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River. American forces within the fort withstood ten days of bombardment by cannon before the British ships withdrew on January 18, 1815.

With the defeat of the British army and the death of Pakenham, Lambert decided that despite the arrival of reinforcements and a siege train for use against New Orleans, continuing the battle would be too costly. Within a week, all of the British troops had redeployed onto the ships and sailed away to Biloxi, Mississippimarker; the British army then attacked and captured Fort Bowyermarker at the mouth of Mobile Bay on February 12. The British army was making preparations to attack Mobilemarker when news arrived of the peace treaty. The treaty had been ratified by the British Parliament but would not be ratified by Congress and the president until mid-February. It, however, did resolve that hostilities should cease, and the British sailed home. Although the Battle of New Orleans had no influence on the terms of the Treaty of Ghent, the defeat at New Orleans did compel Britain to abide by the treaty. Also, since the Treaty of Ghent did not specifically mention the vast territory America had acquired with the Louisiana Purchase, it only required both sides to give back those lands that had been taken from the other during the war.

Although the engagement was small compared to other contemporary battles such as the Battle of Waterloomarker, it was important for the meaning applied to it by Americans in general and Andrew Jackson in particular.

Americans believed that a vastly powerful British fleet and army had sailed for New Orleans (Jackson himself thought 25,000 troops were coming), and most expected the worst. The news of victory, one man recalled, "came upon the country like a clap of thunder in the clear azure vault of the firmament, and traveled with electromagnetic velocity, throughout the confines of the land." The battle boosted the reputation of Andrew Jackson and helped to propel him to the White House. The anniversary of the battle was celebrated for many years.

A federal park was established in 1907 to preserve the battlefield; today it features a monument and is part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preservemarker.

"The 8th of January" became a traditional American fiddle tune the melody of which was used by Jimmie Driftwood to write the song "The Battle of New Orleans", which in a lighthearted tone details the battle from the perspective of an American volunteer fighting alongside Andrew Jackson. The version by Johnny Horton topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959.

Notes

  1. Also known as the "Battle of Chalmette Plantation".
  2. Several military engagements were after and followed the Battle of New Orleans. The first, the Battle of Lake Borgne, occurred on December 14 when British forces captured an American flotilla protecting Lake Borgne. The last occurred on January 18 when British forces terminated their bombardment of Fort St. Philip.
  3. Reilly, Robin (1974). The British at the gates - the New Orleans campaign in the War of 1812. New York: Putnam.
  4. Rodriguez, Junius P. (2002). The Louisiana Purchase: a historical and geographical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 348: "The Battle of New Orleans settled once and for all the question over the Louisiana Purchase. Neither the British nor the Spanish government had recognized the legality of the transfer, and, as such, the British planned either to retain the region or return Louisiana to Spain had they won the battle."
  5. Thomas, Gregory M. (2005). The Battle of New Orleans. Master of Arts dissertation, Louisiana State University. p. 88: "[The Battle of] New Orleans also eliminated vague British designs on a second colonization of America by expanding Canadian possessions down the Mississippi to the Gulf."
  6. Remini, Robert V. (1999). The battle of New Orleans. New York: Penguin Books. p. 193-194: "Then in mid-February dispatches arrived from Europe announcing that the commissioners in Ghent had signed a treaty of peace with their British counterparts and that the War of 1812 had ended." "the Senate of the United States unanimously (35-0) ratified the Treaty of Ghent on February 16, 1815. Now the war was officially over."
  7. Reilly, pp. 311-325
  8. Refer to the map of Louisiana.
  9. Pea Island, or Pearl Island, is located close to the mouth of the Pearl River.
  10. Remini (1999), p. 62-64
  11. Thomas, p. 61
  12. Remini, Robert V. (1977), Andrew Jackson and the course of American empire, 1767-1821. pp. 259-263
  13. Thomas, pp. 61-64
  14. Refer to the map of the battlefield.
  15. Patterson, Benton Rain, p.214-215
  16. Patterson, Benton Rain, p.215-216
  17. The British regulars included the 4th, 7th, 21st, 43rd, 44th, 85th, 93rd (Highland) Regiments, a 500-man "demi-battalion" of the 95th Rifles, 14th Light Dragoons, and the 1st and 5th West Indies Regiments of several hundred black soldiers from the British West Indies colonies. Other troops included Native American members of the Hitchiti tribe, led by Kinache.
  18. United States forces (3,500 to 4,500 strong) were composed of U.S. Army troops; state militiamen from Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana; U.S. Marines; U.S. Navy sailors; Barataria Bay pirates; Choctaw Indians; "freemen of color" (such as Beale's Rifles), and freed black slaves (a large amount of the work building the parapet however was done by local black slaves). Major Gabriel Villeré commanded the Louisiana Militia, and Major Jean Baptiste Plauché headed the New Orleans uniformed militia companies.
  19. Patterson, Benton Rain, p.236
  20. Patterson, Benton Rain, p.230
  21. Reilly, Robin p.296
  22. Patterson, Benton Rain, p.253
  23. Remini (1999) p. 5, 195
  24. Text of the Treaty of Ghent
  25. Empire of Liberty, episode 20/30, "The Second War of Independence"
  26. Ward, p. 4-5


References

  • Borneman, Walter H. 1812 The War that forged a nation ISBN 0-06-053112-6
  • Caffrey, Kate The Twilight's Last Gleaming ISBN 0-8128-1920-9 Stein and Day
  • Owsley, Frank. Struggle for the Gulf borderlands: the Creek War and the battle of New Orleans 1812-1815. (1981) ISBN 0817310622
  • Patterson, Benton Rains The Generals, Andrew Jackson, Sir Edward Pakenham, and the road to New Orleans. 2008 ISBN 0-8147-6717-6
  • Pickles, Tim New Orleans 1815; Osprey Campaign Series, #28. Osprey Publishing, 1993.
  • Quimby, Robert S. (1997). The U.S. Army in the War of 1812: an operational and command study. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.
  • Reilly, Robin (1974), The British at the gates - the New Orleans campaign in the War of 1812, New York: Putnam
  • Remini, Robert V. (1977), Andrew Jackson and the course of American empire, 1767-1821
  • Smith, Gene A. (2004). A British eyewitness at the Battle of New Orleans, the memoir of Royal Navy admiral Robert Aitchison, 1808-1827. The Historic New Orleans Collection.
  • Smith, Sir Harry "Various Anecdotes and Events of my Life - The Autobiography of Lt. Gen. Sir Harry Smith, covering the period 1787 to 1860" First published in 2 volumes, edited by G.C. Moore, London (1901)
  • Stanley, George F.G. "The War of 1812 - Land Operations" . MacMillan & National Museum of Canada (1983)
  • Surtees, W. "Twenty-Five Years in the Rifle Brigade" (1833) Reprint by Greenhill Books
  • Ward, John William . Andrew Jackson, Symbol for an Age. 1962.


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